It’s been quite a while since I’ve published anything on W2E (Walking to Emmaus), and I’d been looking for a topic to write on for quite some time. Well, today I found just the right excuse to do a bit of blog-preaching.
Today I stumbled upon a video again that I had seen last year around this time of year that frustrated me just as much this time as it did the first time I had seen it. The video is a promotional advertisement for an organization called “Back to Church Sunday.” The information listed on the website of the group is rather vague, but from what I can tell it is apparently a non-denominational non-affiliated organization attempting to motivate church members to become more diligent in inviting people to come to church by designating one Sunday out of the year as “Back to Church Sunday.” The website states “National Back To Church Sunday began as a movement to invite everyone in America back to church by empowering and motivating church members to invite their family and friends to come with them to a special service hosted by the local church.”
I imagine my readers asking the question, “what’s wrong with inviting people to come to church?” There’s nothing at all wrong with inviting people to come to your church service. The problem I see is the motivation and methodology being employed by this organization as the means to achieving its goal. Below is the promotional video for “Back to Church Sunday”:
The Promotion of Pragmatism:
So now that you’ve seen the promo, let’s take a brief moment to analyze what exactly is being promoted. Underneath the comedic silliness of various denominational pastors rapping about people coming back to church, we see some key elements that are very revealing about the underlying convictions of the producers of the video. Notice that the content of the video seems to be presenting a list of reasons why people should consider coming back to church. Among such reasons are things like lights, cameras, plenty of action, personal comfort, trendy architecture (stainless steel pulpits), and cutting-edge technology (preaching from iPads), coffee bars, picnics, energetic music, and friendly environments. Anybody notice what’s missing from that list? How about Jesus? How about the Gospel? Among all of the reasons listed in this video attempting to compel people to come to church, Christ and his gracious self-sacrifice for our forgiveness are conspicuously absent. The very thing that makes Christianity unique, relevant, powerful, life-changing, and worthy of anybody’s careful consideration is its message of Christ crucified for our sins and risen for our justification, and yet Jesus is nowhere to be found here. Not even a cameo appearance! Not even an honorable mention in the credits at the end! The product being promoted by this video is a Christ-less Christianity, and Christianity without Christ is utterly worthless. Seriously, ask the question “why?” What is the purpose of the church? What is the purpose of Christianity? Why should someone seriously consider Christianity? Why does church matter if it is neutered of its message of a savior who has rescued us from the wrath of God? What are we left with if the Gospel is absent from our Christianity? The answer is simple – we’re left with mere entertainment, therapy, and self-help, and neither entertainment, therapy, or self-help can save guilty sinners from the just and holy wrath of God.
The Not-So-Good Prognosis of Pragmatism:
The world is not interested in a Christian-themed version of itself, and yet this is exactly what is being presented to the world by churches who are motivated by the gospel of pragmatism – a Christian-themed version of contemporary culture. But, why would the world be interested in a Christian-themed version of itself anyway? The ironic thing about the gospel of pragmatism is that it is completely counter-intuitive to what it seeks to accomplish, which makes it rather unpragmatic – it actually makes the church appear superficial, non-substantive, and irrelevant. This is proven by the countless interviews with college-aged students who grew up in contemporary American evangelical churches and are now professing atheists or agnostics. When asked why they left Christianity, the majority of answers in one way or another essentially said the reason they no longer found Christianity appealing or relevant was that there was no genuine substance to be found. There was nothing unique it had to offer that couldn’t already be found out in the world, because the church was simply trying to mimic the world and slap a “Christian” label on it. These kids were hungry to be taught the deep spiritual truths of the Biblical text, and their churches instead fed them with superficial, simplistic, feel-good, self-improvement, life-enhancement tips. They wanted to know what Christianity really had to offer that was unique – what Jesus could offer them that they couldn’t find anywhere else, and instead their churches fed them Christianized versions of the world. Their churches were trying to mimic the world in an effort to be attractive, appealing, and relevant to the world, and in doing so they become unattractive, unappealing, and utterly irrelevant to the very people they were attempting to reach because there was no genuine substance.
The Prostitution of Pragmatism:
I confess that I really don’t have a clue how many churches participate officially in “Back to Church Sunday,” however, I am rather confident that the principles demonstrated in the video represent everything that has gone amiss with contemporary American evangelical Christianity. Will flashy lights, gimmicks, iPads, musical styles, energetic events with large crowds, or friendly feel-good non-judgmental sermonetts really make Christianity appealing to the world enough to attract (and keep) their loyal attendance? Well, it might do just that – increase attendance, that is. But even if the efforts are successful in getting attendance numbers to increase, what does that prove? Is that really what the goal of a church should be? Is this what God views as a successful church? Hardly! It would prove only that with the right marketing techniques and a big enough budget, you can attract a crowd – that’s all. This is the kind of superficial religious nonsense that happens when the church abandons its faith in the truth of the Biblical text, and instead derives its ecclesiology from business CEO’s and marketing experts. It’s the church pandering and conforming to the desires of the world like a business trying to win a particular marketshare and earn customer loyalty, which is essentially nothing less than the Bride of Christ dressing herself up like a whore to prostitute herself to the sinful world that absolutely hates her glorious groom, the very Lord and Savior that she claims to belong to who purchased her with his own blood shed on the cross of Calvary.
The Only True Church is a Christ-Centered Church:
Christianity without Christ is a mere social club, a mere entertainment center, a mere self-help group, a mere life-enhancement therapy session. The Church is not a place where people go to be entertained – in fact, it’s not a place or a location at all. The Church is not a building, it’s a body. It’s not an organization, it’s an organism. It’s not a construct, it’s a community. The Church is the community of Jesus followers, people who have heard and believed the Gospel and have repented of their sins, who have covenanted together with God and with each other to worship, honor, and serve Jesus Christ as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and to serve each other in teaching, encouragement, correction, and discipleship, to the glory of Christ.
“Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” ~Romans 12:2